Saturday, January 31, 2009
For a little Uncharted shilling: This week, we did it. Our first homepage feature story written by an Explorer, or someone who is an Uncharted community member, but not one of our staff. This is a great move forward for us, one that we hope will be just the first of many, many Explorer features on the homepage. Go check it out here. For a little more info, check out the Uncharted Blog. Better yet, write a story and post a photo at Uncharted, so you can be the next one on the Price is Right.
Friday, January 30, 2009
So far: Nothing aside that which has already broken, or has remained unrepaired since it broke down outside of Black Week.
The van (cross fingers until the knuckles turn white) is fixed. Dead battery. We've owned the van for about five years now, and had not replaced the battery in that time, and have no idea how long it had been in the van before we bought it. So it is reasonable to assume that the battery, sucked of juice for the brief minute we drove when the serpentine belt broke, just gave up the ghost. But we'll see. I am a darkly pessimistic soul when it comes to getting auto repairs to stick. Good news is our next door neighbor Brian Wood is a mechanic, and was able to help us with the replacement. Ordinarily I would have done it, and have done it in the truck. But the van battery was buried under a number of other items, so I decided to seek guidance in getting it out. Good thing I did. He had the tools to do it, and struggled himself to get the thing free.
Now if only we could get our microwave back. I'm jonesin' for some popcorn.
Additionally: When I popped the hood, I found a tool one of the mechanics who worked on our van in the past few weeks left there. If it belongs to Larsen, I'll give it back. If it belongs to the rude folks, I'll have to think about it.
And then ask myself: What Would Wally Do? Neither. He'd just keep it because it was too much of a hassle to track down its rightful owner. I won't do that.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
I have one wish, and that is to find a mechanic in the Rexburg area whom we are comfortable doing business with. This goes beyond being able to trust them, as there are many, I'm sure, who do competent work. But when my wife gets her head chewed off my a mechanic because she dares suggest that a van that won't start might possibly have a connection to work they did earlier this week on the serpentine belt, I choose to send my business elsewhere.
It was, I thought, an innocent question. Maybe something didn't get hooked up right. What I thought was more likely, however, is that the battery just chose this coincidental time to die. We've had the van for several years now, and have never replaced the battery. But a connection to the earlier repair was not entirely out of the question.
So we're back to visiting the one mechanic we trust, whose shop just happens to be 30 miles away. It's not convenient, but I do like it when I call that they do not scream at us at the suggestion their work might not have been up to par. They calmly point out what's possible, and what's likely. In a very nice way. Not condescending. Not screaming. They make one mof my least favorite activities -- dealing with balky autos -- actually somewhat pleasant.
So here's a commercial for Iona, Idaho's Larsen Repair. Quite possibly the best -- and nicest -- mechanics around.
Or, perhaps, even nicer to be the CEO, because while some of us have that tiny spark, and while Wally may have nearly snuffed it entirely, it’s quite possible that these guys never had it to begin with.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
A few minutes ago, I came in from shoveling snow, digging the woodpile out from under about six inches of snow, filling the woodbox and generally getting things ready to keep the family warm tomorrow. I was outside for about twenty minutes in twelve-degree weather. I was clad in a sweatshirt, sweat shorts, a pair of cotton socks and a pair of clogs. No coat. No gloves. And those clogs do nothing to keep the snow out. So my feet, after ten minutes of being back inside the house (along with the rest of my body, natch) are finally warming up.
I think it's genetic. Many years ago, one of my older sisters locked her keys in her car. She called Dad, who was at home, sick with the flu, to bail her out. He went to the rescue, clad in one of Mom's coats and a pair of wooden shoes. Of course his car runs out of gas when he's almost to my sister. She sees him walking past hooting traffic, clad as he was, her knight coming to the rescue.
So, you see, it's not really my fault. I got those genes from Dad.
Posted with LifeCast
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The advice in these chapters falls at a good time, as Uncharted is performing a mini-audit combined with a brainstorming session as we try to shape a portion of our online publication in regards to how the audience uses and interacts with it now, versus how we’d like to shape that use and interactivity in the future.
First, a brief explanation of what Uncharted is – we’re an online community of adventurers sharing stories and photos of trips and vacations we’ve taken. Right now, we have stories and photos sets on trips ranging from a cruise to Alaska to a quiet sojourn down the San Juan River in Utah. We have staff members who write and take photos and an online community where anyone can share their work as well.
For the past month and a half, we’ve featured only staff content on our home page, but this next week will be the first time we’ll feature a story and photo set completed by one of our community members. We’re figuring out how to present this visually and textually to convey the following messages to our audience:
1) This is a contribution from a non-staff member! Hurrah!
2) This is what an “explorer” is – a chance to explain our company jargon. (An explorer is a non-staff member of the Uncharted community whose work is featured on the home page.)
3) This is what we look for in “explorer” contributions.
We have to be, in the words of Ralphie Parker, “firm but subtle.” We don’t necessarily want to broadcast in bold and flashing lights that this is what’s happening, because it’ll interrupt the visual continuity we’re trying to achieve. Yet if we take other approaches – using the company blog, for example, to explain the significance of what’s going on, we risk that message being missed by our primary audience that bypasses the blog and goes straight into the home pages and misses the significance of our latest update.
That brings us into the brainstorming bit, which is what we’re doing now. We started an e-mail chain on this last night, and hopefully by the end of the day we’ll have a workable solution. As Lips recommends, we’re now just tossing out ideas, not dismissing any at the moment and not looking at past performance because what we’re doing now is, for our product, an absolutely new thing: Differentiating between staff and non-staff content featured on the home page. We want this event noted with adequate fanfare to get other community members excited, and to reintroduce the idea that they can nominate stuff on the site to be featured on the home page.
We also plan to use this opportunity for some user testing – avoiding banking on the success of a single concept, as Lips warns in Chapter Three. If we try one way and it doesn’t get the reaction we hope for, we’ll try another way, and test that as well. On one of our iterations we’re likely to find something that resonates with our contributors and gets them excited about contributing stories and photos on the hopes they’ll be featured on the home page as well. (That, and we’ve got to get our story submission module working again. It’s having difficulties at the moment.)
This brings us into an aside that again focuses on the mini-audit. Even though we don’t have a clear method for Uncharted members to nominate a story to be featured (that was part of a passel of things that got trimmed from the site design as we worked through several design iterations, focusing on getting core elements working at a cost we could afford) some have figured out ways to make such nominations, either by e-mailing staff members they know, or by leaving comments on the stories/photos themselves. They’ve shown their ingenuity. We need, however, to be more upfront and clear with the nomination process, so it’s a one-button arrangement. This will tie in, I hope, with the messaging we plan to produce to promote the first non-staff submission to be featured on the home page. In other words, we have a chance here to help shape our audience’s habits, tying in with what Beth Swanson of Wendy’s magazine fame says in Chapter Three: we have to “be specific about what actions [the audience] needs to take, and why.”
Monday, January 26, 2009
It’s still entertaining to envision. It could go something like this:
User1: I offer a belief that the earth is less than 7,000 years old for a pretended belief that gay marriage is acceptable. Any takers?
User2: That’s a tall order. I’m still trying to find someone willing to swap belief in evolution for a pretended belief that the only real Kennedy Legacy is the Apollo program, the Peace Corps, and the half-dollar.
(Yes, submitters would have to be up front if they truly intended to believe their newly-swapped belief, or merely plan to pretend such belief on the cynical notion that most everyone practices belief and tolerance of belief for the things they already believe in. Which, of course, doesn’t happen in our day. Don’t know why I brought it up.)
Maybe this could be a subculture on Twitter, or some other similar useless Internet venture, where the illusion of informed thought and discussion of the issues of today is really a sign that U.S. productivity declines are not due to outsourcing, the souring economy and other such malarkey but due to hours frittered away on useless pursuits.
What’s worse is I forgot what word I was looking up in the dictionary when these thoughts trampled through my brain like a herd of constipated wiener dogs. And I won’t fall into the cranial trap of looking through the dictionary again.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Touted as "a must for anyone who travels outside the United States," this book, written by Dan McKinnon, former chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, serves as a curious historical document into the frenzy and furor that circulated in the United States after a spate of terrorist hijackings of airliners in the mid- to late-1980s. The book uses the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 as kind of the high-water mark for terrorism against the average American. I remember this incident -- the plane flew several times between Beirut and Algiers for three days, during which an American Navy diver was murdered, Jewish passengers sequestered in Lebanon and others freed over the course of two weeks before the incident ended. (Kind of sounds innocent now, by comparison iwth more recent events, doesn't it?)
What I found most striking in McKinnon's book is this passage, which describes how terrorism affects people, the media and the nation. A few good lessons to learn here:
When terrorists can keep a running event alive, such as the 17-day TWA 847 hijacking and hostage crisis, they can manipulate the media -- and public opinion -- thereby having a direct impact on our government. It required the president, his administration and every member of Congress to become personally involved. Concern for the lives of a few became an overriding obsession. The wheels of government grind to a halt. TV cameras ask the man in the street his reaction. Reporters talk with the families of hostages. Prayer services are held and filmed. The nation starts to think with its heart instead of with its head. Fear begins to grip everyone.
So I have to ask the question: Does it matter now if Osama Bin Laden is dead now or not? And how long will it take us -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- to start thinking with our heads again, rather than our hearts? Yes, Bush was a lousy president. But when I hear the media giving glowing reports on the supposed influence for goodness and normalcy that having Barack Obama's mother-in-law resident in the White House, I have to shake my head and wonder if the Democrats are thinking with their heads or their hearts as well? Idealism is a good thing. Idolatry is not.
They say, of course, that bad things happen in threes. So until the iPod went frrpt, I was waiting for the other thing to go boom.
Friday night, the microwave went south. The little computron or whatever it is that makes the microwaves won't make the microwaves any longer. That means I spent the entire weekend absolutely surrounded by no microwave popcorn. I am in hell.
Then Saturday, a clicking under the hood of the van turned into a wet slapping sound that suddenly turned into more master alarms, cautions and warnings than the Apollo 13 crew got after they did their cryostir. We either lost a belt or a pulley, because everything went south as we limped the van to the mechanic -- we lost power steering, the water pump, and the alternator was going HELLLLLP! as well. So we sat there in the snow at the mechanic -- luckily we were able to get there -- trying to figure out what to do. Michelle got on the cell phone and started calling people for help, while I did my traditional guy thing by popping the hood and staring at all the hoses and wires and thingabajobbies that lie underneath. I know enough about cars that I knew the symptoms meant a lost belt, and I could see it there loose and floppy, but durned if I knew how to fix it. Liam thought the entire event -- we were all there, eating chocolate cookies -- was pretty scary. Now, I've broken down in Island Park and waaaaay out in Squirrel, Idaho, where I was lucky to only have to walk a half mile before I could find someone to help jump my battery, so being stranded in the middle of Rexburg at a mechanic's shop wasn't high on my list of scaries. Fortunately, Robert Shultz, a ward member, was in town and was able to come get us to take us home. And fortuitously, he also repairs electronics, including microwaves. He's already working on a subwoofer for us -- he wants to fix ours and then try it out to see if they make enough of a sound difference to buy one himself. He was in fact fixing the avionics on a plane at the Rexburg airport when his wife called him to tell him of our distress.
So the worst that'll happen with the microwave is that I'll be off popcorn for a few days. The worst that'll happen with the van is that it'll be in the shop for the day. And the worst that happend with the iPod going south is that I had to reset my configuration and then do this entry from scratch.
We have sooooo much to be thankful for.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Back in the day (early to late 1940s, I believe) British author C.S. Lewis took his collection of books and papers -- which amounted to quite a pile -- to the library at Cambridge, figuring that if he wanted to read a book, he could go to the library and borrow it. Having the stuff stored and cared for at the library meant he didn't have to do any of it himself. The information was at a place where he could go practically any time he wanted.
So today we have the Internet. Right now I'm watching an episode of "Last of the Summer Wine" on YouTube, without having to buy it. Seems odd. What C.S. Lewis did as a benefit to others, what I'm doing now is a detriment -- taking money from someone else. I am scum.
Uncharted takes another leap forward by self-publishing our first book, thanks to blurb.com. Click on the picture (or on the link here) to preview it. It's a self-published jobbie, obviously, done with the help of the folks at blurb.com.
The price -- just over $80 -- is kind of a shocker, especially for a 62-page book. We'll be working over the next few months on formats that will actually include more photos and stories from our wonderful website, www.uncharted.net, and actually be a bit cheaper. OK, a lot cheaper.
We published now in order to make a trademark deadline -- we had to have the book printed by the end of January in order to seal ourselves indelibly into the realm of book publishing with the Uncharted name. That meant, when we started designing the thing in mid-December, that we had to act quickly. We made the book go in a modular format, working on our central stories and only adding on additional stories and photos if we had the time. Our plan, as discussed earlier, is to keep adding to the book over the next few months before we do any big promotions on it.
Friday, January 23, 2009
I apologize I haven't been as active on the ethertalk as the rest of you this week, but, ironically, I've been hip deep in the publication process here at work. I'll walk you through what we do here at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex when it comes to preparing documents for publication, publishing said documents:
First of all, a rumor starts that changes to currently published documents will be needed to meet a new milestone, a change in requirements or a new approach to doing the work we do. Sometimes the rumors take weeks to solidify, other times they become fact in a matter of hours. For this last batch of documents, things went from a rumor on Thursday to actual fact on the following Monday.
Once the rumored changes become actual changes, our writing group meets with management and the subject matter experts driving the changes. The SMEs bring to the meeting what's called a Form-579, on which they've outlined (sometimes in specific, other times in general) what changes need to be made to documents, training programs and postings. As a group, we go through the form, filling in detail when necessary, asking questions and getting clarification. This is the most important step, as a well-detailed 579 helps us in the writing group know exactly what has to be done. It's a way of setting expectations with the SMEs and management before the actual writing begins. The 579 also becomes a milestone document, on which the entire team tracks what work has been completed and what needs to be done. The form is updated throughout the process (we'll see it again).
Once the 579 is ready, we incorporate the changes into the documents. They're then sent out for review by a wide variety of SMEs, who suggest other improvements. Once the review process is done, several things happen, depending on the type of document:
Documents that are used to conduct work are sent out in the field to be “validated” by operations personnel – our principal audience. They walk through the entire document, making sure that the old portions still work and that the new information is correct from an operational standpoint and clearly communicates the sometimes arcane world of (in this case) nuclear criticality safety (a criticality, in our case, is what happens if enough waste is collected in one spot to start nuclear fission; we absolutely do not want this to happen). Any significant changes proposed by the operators have to be approved by the original reviewers.
At the same time, these documents are given to the training department, which works on (obviously) training programs to help all the operators become familiar with the new or changed process.
Non-operations documents kind of idle at this point, waiting for the validation process to be completed.
Once validation is done, all documents go to the nuclear safety group, which prepares a report on the changes, ensuring the changes keep our processes within the bounds contained in the overall safety report, which is monitored by the Department of Energy. They will on occasion ask for additional changes or clarifications, which, again have to be reviewed and approved by the original reviewers.
Once the nuclear safety group finishes its report, it is reviewed and signed by management, along with the changed documents. The document owners, at this point, can also suggest additional changes, and, if they are significant, the entire process starts over again.
At this point, an independent reviewer takes the documents and reviews them against the 579 form, to make sure all the changes outlined on the form are accounted for in the documents.
Once the documents are approved, they're sent to the publications group, which reviews them from a records standpoint to make sure they meet company requirements. They're then published.
Obviously, there are many instances in our process where the reviewers can suggest changes. If we're on a tight deadline, this can cause trouble. So throughout the process, it's the writing group's job – with one or two SMEs – to anticipate what kinds of questions, changes or clarifications the other reviewers might want. The better we anticipate these changes, the easier time we have of meeting deadlines, because the chance of last-minute changes is lessened. In order to make this kind of anticipation work, we spend a lot of time making sure we know our SMEs and the others involved in the process, so we can know what kinds of things they think about, how they think, and what their pet concerns may be. The longer I've worked here, the easier this has become simply because I've become familiar with what these experts expect in a document. I've been able to go from significant last-minute changes to changes (they always come) that are much simpler to get approved – often, after a half hour of phone calls, the work is done. On significant changes, deadlines can be blown by a week or more.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
If you get a shiny metal water bottle from the company as a Christmas gift, forget to mention it to your wife and then bring it home and put it near the kitchen sink for washing, make sure you don't do it in the same week you compare one of her similar bottles to the casks used at work for waste sample handling, lest you get a phone call from said wife wondering what in the world it is she's got on her countertop.
I did not follow this advice this week. I now know better.
So here is the link, to a story I wrote (and pictures we took) while on a cruise to Alaska. Hope you enjoy it:
If you do enjoy it, please peruse the rest of the stories and photos we have posted. Then join the community and start posting stories and photos of your own. We're going to have a lot of fun at Uncharted, and would like you to come along.
Pluto is a planet, no matter what the International Astonomical Union says.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A few excerpts, what I like:
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
It's a little Sinclair Lewis/Gottliebesque, challenging Americans to believe that hard work is the means to the good end, not leaving the hard work to others.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Very FDR-esque, bringing up echoes of the Works Progress Administration. What's wrong with a little infrastructure? Well, Alaska's infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" answers that question. Let's hope this is sensible infrastructure we're talking about, not infrastructure for infrastructure's sake. And education. Wow. This is what we need. But what are we going to do to get people to take advantage of educational opportunities in a society where we seem to be growing more towards Neal Stephenson's gloomy ideal that we're all content providers, not builders? But enough nattering about that. Education. Infrastructure. A new incarnation of the WPA. Which all ties in with this:
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
This nation has done a lot, taken on ambitious projects that at the time seemes too large to accomplish -- Settling of the West, building interstates, the Manhattan Project, the Apollo moon landings. We can do big things. Phooey to those who say we can't, nor no longer can.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Thank you, thank you. I'm always bothered when, for one good, another good has to be tossed aside.
And finally this, to cynics on the left as well as to cynics on the right:
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Whether it works. What a novel concept.
I hope all this can come about. I hope I can find a way to help. First I'll help by stopping this entry and getting back to work, writing and editing procedures like I've never written nor edited before.
(Added at 2:18 pm)
A LOT of people are parsing this. Depending on whom you read, it's either that Obama was rushing into the oath, not waiting for John Roberts to finish the phrases Obama was to repeat, or, as Emily Yoffe at Slate.com writes, that Roberts decided to proceed without having the oath in written form in front of him, flubbed it, leaving Obama to pause, waiting for Roberts to correct his flubs. I think it was just nerves showing for both men.
. . . Jimmy Carter shakes hands with George H.W. Bush, then walks by Bill Clinton without glancing at him . . .
. . . Nobody boos during Rick Warren's prayer. One of Obama's daughters has her eyes open the entire time. Not unlike my children. Maybe there is hope . . .
. . . Aretha Franklin -- What's up with that hat? Sure, some of the Supreme Court justices really have the Politburo look going for them, but really . . .
1) Lame Duck Bush will be out. (Not that I think Bush is evil incarnate as some people think. But as lame ducks go, he's been a little lamer than most.
2) We will no longer have to hear TV and radio commentators (are you listening, National Public Radio?) say "President-Elect Barack Obama" with the same voice inflections and tones that scorned evangelicals typically use when saying things like "savior," "Christ," and "Republican."
My biggest fear for the First 100 Days of O: That he will somehow be stripped of his superpowers by some sort of political Kryptonite ensconced somewhere in the White House and be revealed not as they symbol of a New America but as your traditional politician, and a typical Illinois Democrat at that.
I voted for the man. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have high hopes that he will be able to do what he wants to do, and that, in some ways, he can help restore Americans' faith in their own government and the nation's reputation worldwide. But he's got to do more to prove his abilities, drive, and charisma than win an election and have an attractive wife. I'm looking beyond that superpower image, hoping that the substance lives up to the hype.
Things I hope will happen:
1) True bipartisanship. This is the time for the GOP to show that they're more than the party that lost to the Democrats. This is also the time for the Democrats to show that they're not all enormously smug sacks of bleep.
2) A bas le kitsch. I'm not sure we've seen this much presidential kitsch since people wore those "Silent Majority" Richard Nixon masks in 1972. I don't mind if people want to wave a poster or wear a button. But does everyone out there with an Obama image have to paste it onto a mug or a t-shirt or paint it on a wall to make a buck?
3) Responsibility and sacrifice on the part of our leadership. We've seen billions of dollars flowing from future taxpayers to big business. Given that trillions are promised to flow and that $109 million was spent on the inauguration alone, I'm certain this promise will not be fulfilled.
4) Death to the entourage. I'd like, for once, to see an administration dispense with the flunkies, the lackeys, the hangers-on, the people with the big smiles and the outstretched hands asking for their quid pro quo.
Things I wish wouldn't happen, but I'm sure they will:
1) Everything that goes wrong in the next four years -- and I mean everything -- will be blamed on George W. Bush. If we all throught Ronald Reagan was the Teflon President, wait until we see No-Stick Obama.
2) Politics as usual. The Democrats will act as if they were fifteen pounds of smug in a five-pound bag. The GOP will fall over themselves making their party look even more ridiculous than when they nominated Grandpa John and Moose Palin for the presidency and vice presidency.
In other words, I expect politics as usual.
Monday, January 19, 2009
What, exactly, are connor lips?
Thank you for bearing with me. Now, on to the discussion:
It’s no surprise to me that the major points of this weeks’ reading assignment are points of doctrine that have been pounded into me since I decided I wanted to be a writer more than two (nearly three, yikes) decades ago:
Learn to multitask
Show up prepared
What writers today are being asked to do, be curious about and be prepared about has certainly changed in the past 29 years, but the driving philosophies remain strong.
As Prof. Hailey has mentioned earlier, back in the day it was a multitasking writer who could cut-and-paste, learning with waxed paper, tape and x-acto knives the art of paste-up. Nowadays, we’ve gone beyond that into desktop publication design, web design, HTML and XML. To those of you working with XML and such on a regular basis, I’m jealous. I’m pleased as punch to be getting my feet wet when it comes to website design and management, but I’d like to be doing more – and what I’m doing now comes through a volunteer gig (http://www.uncharted.net/, please oh please check us out) than at work, where Word is Master.
Writers who remain curious rank among the best writes out there. An avid curiosity also shows our customers we’re willing to understand the problem/question from their point of view, making us a more valuable asset to them in the future. (Ironically, for me, remaining curious is the thing I have to remind myself to do. I actually have a sticky note on my monitor at work that reads “Be Curious,” though it seems to have disappeared this week. Probably stuck to some papers somewhere. I’ll have to make a new one. Some people like to say there’s such a thing as being too curious (as the attached picture entails). I don’t believe that much. Being curious for about thirty seconds last week would have saved me three angst-filled days this weekend, so, trust me, being curious DOES NOT come naturally to all human beings.
And nobody, absolutely nobody, likes it when the agenda gets to the point where the unprepared person is set to speak about his or her unpreparedness. Time-waster. I like to waste time on my own terms, thank you very much. I have a boss whose pet peeve is people who show up unprepared. If you’re unprepared, he says, it shows you don’t care about what you’re doing, that you think what you’re doing is unimportant or that you’d rather be on the unemployment line, he is fond of saying when I paraphrase him.
Now, an aside. Our professor's introductory note to this topic included the following paranthetical phrase:
"Take that Mrs. Thistlebottom! (She was my old English teacher who used to gig me for run-on sentences)."
I have to wonder if, when she entered college, if she knew she was destined to become an English teacher. You don't find any math or phys ed instructors with a name like Thistlebottom.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
As I sit here contemplating things along the nature of spiritual death (which we define as a separation from God) I suddenly realized something: I'm one of the Nac Mac Feegle, from Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching novels.
The Nac Mac Feegle believe that in this life, they're already dead, and this do not fear life because they know that when they pass on to the next life, they will be alive. Now I believe that while we are here on Earth, we are separated from God and, this, are spiritually dead. So there is much to do in this life, but little to fear, because it's in the next life when we truly become alive, if we've performed well enough to enter His presence.
Posted with LifeCast
Saturday, January 17, 2009
You do not stock what we want.
I'm serious. Just today I went looking for a simple bookshelf for my daughter's room, one of those bookshelf-in-a-box deals. Nowhere to be found in town. In the past, we've gone on searches for popcorn poppers, non-Belgian waffle makers, a particular brand of fabric cleanser, baby wipes and a long, long list of other items that should be staples in local stores (we have a Wal-Mart and a Kmart, plus a bevy of other stores) but they're never in stock.
Sleds, for example. Don't bother buying them during the winter when there's actual snow on the ground. Can't be found. And when they are in the stores in mid-September when winter is only a ghastly shadow on the horizon, they have all but two varieties, and only six or seven of each.
Bottling supplies. At the peak of bottling season, when everyone has produce starting to ripen or rot in gardens and in kitchens, the local stores no longer carry bottles, lids, rings or anything else a person could use to preserve food. Nobody wants to overstock, it seems, but why do they chronically understock? It's like our big box stores are run as high school junior business club projects. Shelves are chronically understocked. I've been trying to buy microwave popcorn for TWO WEEKS now, and just today managed to get one box out of our local Wal-Mart.
Yes, they're picked over by students swarming into BYU-Idaho, but the students have been swarming into BYU-Idaho for five years now and our local stores STILL can't figure out that they need to stock more quantities of many items in order to meet demand. Now, coffee makers, in a county that brags of a population of about 98 percent LDS, they have in abundance. Figure that out.
Now, going to Idaho Falls doesn't solve every problem (in three years of searching,we've found only one non-Belgian waffle maker, and for some reason Michelle decided against it) but it typically solves most of them.
Rexburg, you brag about being half the size of Idaho Falls now, roughly in population and in size. But until we can get past the slow service to non-service in our local stores, people will continue going to Idaho Falls because they know they can find what they want there.
Saturday was starting out so well. And then our oldest said he didn't want the waffles his mother was cooking for breakfast. Went downhill from there rather quickly. Now I'm in the oldest's bedroom watching him work on the gigantic pile of chores he was handed on lieu of the breakfast he didn't want and is now assuredly not going to get. While my breakfast is getting cold. I'm the chore supervisor, which is fine because the mood his mother is in right now will likely lead to an infanticide if he so much as twitches out of line.
I'm just not sure sonny boy here understands how much he upset the delicate familial social fabric, already strained by other events this week, with his anti-waffle tirade this morning. Mom definitely gets to go see "The Secret Life of Bees" this afternoon, without any kids in tow.
I do now know, however, what Bill Cosby meant when he said he was happy on those occasions when his wife met him at the door mid-conniption only to discover "he was not the one she was looking like that about."
Hopefully, things return to something more resembling normal later today. Or else life as we know it may not continue.
Posted with LifeCast
Friday, January 16, 2009
My favorite line: "Hey! You can throw things through Dad! I'm gonna get an anvil."
I think one of the things I enjoy the most about Mystery Science Theater 3000 is that these guys took a simple idea that any of us could have thought up -- making fun of the movies and doing so in a TV show -- and turned it into a success. Gives hope to schlubs like me who are cooking up ideas that anyone could think of.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
A panorama of the Martian landscape taken by NASA's Spirit rover on Jan. 1, 2006, from the bottom of Gusev Crater.
I first heard this news from England's The Sun newspaper, but wanted to wait until a slightly more reputable source reported on it. I'll have to settle for CNN. But the news is this: Scientists at two Hawaii observatories confirmed today they have discovered methane gas in Mars' atmosphere. This is significant because some scientists believe Martian bacteria could be the source of this methane.
Life on Mars is a possibility.
Of course, so are a lot of other things. Those explaining today's find also point out that geologic processes involving the oxidation of iron can also produces methane as a byproduct, and given that Mars' red color comes from oxidized iron, it's a fair bet that a lot of the Martian methane comes from this and other geologic sources, rather than biologic ones.
Still, it's fascinating to think that a future expedition might find methane-producing microbes on Mars.
Rather than approach the question from a standpoint of rules – which in my view can always be broken or reduced in overall “ruleness” by exceptions – I’d rather look at this discussion from the viewpoint of where we agree and where there still appears to be a divergence of opinion.
Where we agree:
Not everything is a publication. Such general guidelines as audience, intent to publish, context and completeness, amount of effort/work put into a text and the intended use of a text all are important as we consensually decide what is a publication and what is not.
Audience: We agree that, even if a publication’s audience is only one person, a text is a publication if it reaches its intended audience and causes some kind of action in them, even if that reaction is to drift off into a blissful slumber.
Intent to publish: We agree that if a text remains unseen by the audience, it is a manuscript, a chalktalk, or any other type of classified thing, but not a publication. Accidental publication, be it pure accident or distribution to an audience without our knowledge, however, turns that unpublished whatever into a publication.
Context and completeness: We agree that to be considered a publication, a text need not be complete, but should offer ample inferences and clues as to where the audience may find additional context in order to aid in their understanding and use of the publication.
Amount of effort/work put into a text: We agree that work texts that are more “formal,” into which we’ve poured a lot of “organizational thought,” “time,” and “effort,” are publications, whereas “informal” notes, letters to family, and other such truck aren’t publications. (I put terms in quotes here because there is some varying level of disagreement on defining these terms.)
Intended use: We agree that the end use of a text weighs heavily on whether it is a publication or not. A grocery list is not a publication because of the mundane use to which it is put. A formal proposal to a superior on a matter of interest to the company certainly is a publication.
Where we disagree:
To varying levels, we disagree on what is a publication and what is not. There are some who do not consider personal letters, informal notes, and such, as publications, while others have taken flights of fancy into considering singing in the shower and architecture as publications. These extreme views, while interesting to consider, do not fall into the realm of consensus among this group.
Where consensus is still developing:
I can’t say confidently that there is consensus on whether genre plays a role in defining a text as a publication, but I will admit some bias in this, as I’m still in the minority camp on this opinion. As there are some who have still not commented on the genre question, I can’t say for sure that a consensus has been reached, but as time passes, that consensus may arrive.
This is good. As the Delphi method Prof. Hailey outlines for us, coming to a consensus is eliminating (or at least moderating) these extreme views and helping us all, in general, approach a middle ground.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
So why do I like Basic Instructions? I like how Meyer uses it to explore relationships -- principally between young husband and young wife, certainly a different meme than the traditional husband-wife dramadies we get these days. Plus he tends to kilter toward letting his inner child show through (as in this comic) by expressing how that inner child still wants to come out and those who live happier lives tend to be the ones who let that kid get out more than just once and a while.
Though I have no artistic ability whatsoever, I've long been fascinated by good comics. I blame my older brother Jeff who was (and still is) a great fan of Johnny Hart and Brant Parkers' comix B.C. and The Wizard of Id. He had their books by the dozens, so I read them religiously on the occasions when I could sneak them out of his room without getting a good pounding. Not that such a pounding would happen, because he enjoyed sharing the books. Or at least tolerated it. Or didn't know. But I read them anyway. Part of what makes comix in general appealing to me is that it shows how people are able to be smart and glib and clever on paper. I'm not much of a talker, so to see such cleverness expressed without tongues having to wag gives me hope.
We don't have a digital conversion box.
I don't know if our televisions have built-in digital receivers.
We still have one of those TV antennas on the roof of the house. (Let the record show I HATE spelling the word antenna. Never have spelled it right the first time.)
And I'm not bothered in the least.
We just don't watch TV when TV wants us to watch it. There are a few shows we watch on a semi-regular basis, but given that they're streamed over the Internet these days, we get what we want with our high-speed Internet. We don't even have cable or satellite TV at the house. And we don't miss it. We don't have time for television.
Oh, we watch lots of movies. But to say we have time to idly flip through the channels, no.
Besides, there's not much to watch. On the occasions we visit Michelle's parents, I'll flip through their cable offerings. Typically I can find something to watch. But to say I have to watch is a lie. Last time we were there we watched something called "Speeders," in which a camera crew follows cops catching scofflaws. Mildly entertaining. But I don't need a daily, weekly, or even monthly "Speeders" fix.
So I don't think we'll miss much when on Feb. 17 the conversion is made. I do get to take the antenna down, which is good news. I didn't want to put it back up after I shingled the roof a few years ago, but I was convinced it had to be there, even though the wires from it to the TV were snipped, stored in the shed and eventually thrown away. The antenna now serves as a magnet for TV providers, who knock on the door and say, "Noticed you have an antenna up there. Want Dish Network?" I look forward to taking the thing down so the door-knockers will stop. Perhaps with our mini dish up there for the wi-fi, we won't get as many solicitors.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Proofreading is soooo important. As is having someone else look your work over as well. And then looking it over again yourself to make sure your buddy didn't miss anything. And yet mistakes still slip through. It's frustrating. But we have to be on the ball, don't we? And ready to fix our errors, lest we look like idiots. Boy do I know that feeling well.
And the media need to stop enabling these people by quoting them – anonymously – in order to “balance” their stories. On this I can speak with some authority, as in my previous life, I spent ten years as a newspaper reporter, five years as an editor. And what happens in this AP story is ludicrous.
"To those of us who have been following these events, we know that something isThis is one of two “observers” this AP piece quotes as being concerned about an “imminent” eruption at Yellowstone. No names. No qualifications offered, but I’m sure a site like Armageddononline attracts only the finest, most qualified individuals. The other is just as bad:
brewing, especially considering that Yellowstone is over 40,000 years overdue
for a major eruption," warned a posting on the online disaster forum
Another Web site contained a page entitled "Yellowstone Warning" that encouragedYes, maybe the AP was suffering with a paucity of citable experts willing to express dire prediction. Professionally, I’ve always taken this as a sign that there is no dire prediction to be made.
"everyone to leave Yellowstone National Park for 100 miles around the volcano
caldera because of the danger in poisonous gasses that can escape from the
hundreds of recent earthquakes." That site, which carried the U.S. Geological
Survey logo, has since been taken down.
Overdue library books are much more of a menace than overdue volcanic eruptions, because overdue library books are fixed in time with fees that increase with the passing of each day. To claim that Yellowstone is “overdue” for an eruption lays bare basic ignorance about statistics and causality. The argument is, of course, that, on average, Yellowstone has seen cataclysmic eruptions about every 600,000 years. Mongers point out that Yellowstone’s last eruption occurred 640,000 years ago, thus laying claim to the “fact” that an eruption is overdue. That is so very wrong.
Mother Nature does not punch a time clock nor adhere to set schedules on the time scale proposed here. The Yellowstone area – the area, not the park itself – has seen three large eruptions in the past 2.1 million years, true, but they did not occur with punch-clock regularity. About 2.1 million years ago, an eruption created Idaho’s Island Park Caldera. The second occurred about 1.3 million years ago, creating (in Idaho again) the Henry’s Fork Caldera, nested inside the previous caldera (the photo at the top of this blog shows Idaho's Upper Mesa Falls, which tumbles down from the lip of the Henry's Fork Caldera. I have more pictures of Yellowstone and Idaho's volcanic past online at www.uncharted.net). The Yellowstone Caldera was created in an eruption about 640,000 years ago. That makes it about 800,000 years between the first and second eruptions, and about 660,000 years between the second and third eruptions. But statistically, recording the interval between two eruptions and using that average to predict a third is an ignorant thing to do. (These figures also demonstrate how the fearmongers are using the wrong average for their predictions. My calculator shows an average of 730,000 years between eruptions. But since averages don’t mean much at all in this equation, why argue?)
Then there are the earthquake claims – most of the current agitation comes from the fact that a swarm of about 900 earthquakes occurred in the Yellowstone Lake area in the park at the end of 2008 and into the first week of 2009. Many point to this earthquake swarm as evidence of an impending eruption.
Where were they, you’ve got to wonder, in 1985, when more than 3,000 earthquakes occurred in the park over several months, or any of the other 70 times smaller swarms of earthquakes were recorded in the park between 1983 and 2008? Probably out there, somewhere, but in these pre-Internet times, they had a harder time finding a public voice, and an audience willing to soak up their crapola.
The BBC film “Supervolcano” doesn’t help the effort much, either. I’ve seen it. It’s fine drama. But the emphasis here should be on drama (never mind that when they show “Highway 20, the major link between West Yellowstone and Idaho Falls at a standstill” as people evacuate the area, the images shown aren’t anything like the rural area that stretch of highway passes through). How do I know this? I live there. Grew up in Idaho Falls and currently live in Sugar City, about 108 miles southwest of Old Faithful, by that very same Highway 20.
But you just don’t make a sexy disaster movie out of the truth, which is this (quoting from the same AP piece I malign; at least the author got this part right):
Park geologist Hank Heasler said the odds of a cataclysmic eruption at
Yellowstone any time soon are astonishingly remote - about the same as a large
meteorite hitting the Earth. The last such eruption occurred 640,000 years ago.
The last eruption of any kind at Yellowstone was a much smaller lava flow about
70,000 years ago.
"Statistically, it would be surprising to see an eruption the next
hundred years," Lowenstern said.
The film does show the more likely occurrence:
Much more likely, he said, would be a hydrothermal explosion in which
underground water encounters a hot spot and blasts through the surface. Small
hydrothermal explosions producing craters a few feet wide occur in Yellowstone
perhaps once or twice a year. Large hydrothermal explosions leaving craters the
size of a football field occur every 200 years or so, according to a 2007 paper
co-authored by Heasler, Lowenstern and others.
But again, why blow up part of the park as big as a football field if you can blow up the entire park and make for a really exciting TV movie, eh? Oh well.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Urgh. I’m having a lot harder time with this question than last week’s – partly because just about every conversation I’ve had concerning genre has always felt like opening the door to an empty room: There’s a lot of space to talk about but absolutely nothing to sit on.
Like Kat, I don’t know that defining genre is going to help me with my definition of what a publication is – particularly if we apply the supposition that “genre involves interaction with an audience (even if it is an audience of one),” as Prof. Hailey wrote in the “copyright” thread today.
I’m more readily convinced that some texts – as Prof. Hailey defines texts – are not publications, but whether or not they are publications depends on what the text is and how it might be used and interpreted, not what genre they might happen to be, unless we get to defining genres to such detail as “left-handed dentists without tonsils.”
Take notes, for example. Grocery lists, this-person-called reminders and such may be written down and used by a limited audience, but they’re not necessarily publications – we don’t remember them, nor do they have any audience utility beyond the initial need – reminding us what to buy at the grocery store or who called and wants a returned call.
Then there are notes that take on lives of their own and, years past, are recalled and – at least for my family – become part of the family folklore.
For example: My Dad once left us this note:
“We have gone to SLC. We will be back tonight. Maybe. Hope you have a good time without R. looking at you over the fence and V. looking at you under the fence.”
The humor of the note (it was accompanied by drawings Dad did of he (R.) and Mom (V.) peering at us from over and under a fence) I suppose could be classified in the genre of “notes bearing utility (location of the parents) and humor,” but with this kind of nit-picking, the use of defining a genre goes out the window because of the specificity. The genre of “notes” is too broad to be useful, as is the narrowed genre suggested here.
Then again, there was this note:
“Scouts 4 o’clock.”
In this form, the reason for this note to be part of family folklore (and thus a family publication) is not apparent. This note could be classified as a “reminder” and not be considered a publication, as with all reminder notes. But because this was a hand-written note in which the author (my brother) nearly closed the “u” in Scouts, the note appeared thus:
“Scoots 4 o’clock.”
We have, for years now, asked him if he ever made it to that Scoot meeting. So we have the sub-genre “notes with humorous typos” that spread past their intended audience of one to become a family inside joke, published now over several generations.
Then, if you want to argue further, are the “found poetry” possibilities with discarded grocery store lists. I have a small collection of these. Some grocery notes are just that – lists of things to buy at the store. But others, discarded at the store and thus reaching an unintended audience (me) transcend mundanity to become publications. My favorite:
The will to go on living
Yes, these are all mundane notes with that unusual little twist to them. Some notes are not publications. Some definitely are. Trying to define genre to determine what is a publication and what is not is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Again, on notes: One of my favorite Internet humor sites is the obscure “Wally World Life,’” which can be found at wallyworldlife.com. The site follows the day-to-day ramblings of a Wal-Mart associate, his weird co-workers, the weird customers and his own little weird tics. (Note: If you visit, be warned this guy swears some.) Each day is just a note, something he saw or observed or thought for the day. On an individual basis, the notes are not publications. But taken altogether, this guy has created one of the funniest observational publications on the Internet. So I’ll continue arguing that it’s context and meaning that make a publication a publication, not so much with genre.
But I can be convinced that genre helps define publication. I need examples, though, because, on my own, I’m having a hard time with this.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
With the itouch now working properly, we now have four devices in the house capable of accessing the Internet and for gaming - though I do not have any games yet for the itouch. Right now, three of the four devices are in use- I'm doing another boring blog entry while the kids are downstairs playing Sim City and Lego Indiana Jones. A while ago, Michelle was chatting with Alan via Facebook, and I was on Sim City. What's interesting is that when I was growing up, TV was the big thing, and we had a good corner of the best room in the house dedicated to it. I'm now contemplating how we could turn the family room downstairs - home to the big screen TV - into the computer room, by moving the TV into the study, making it the TV room. Simply put, we don't have enough room in the study for all the activities that take place there. And besides that, the study carpet is an ugly orange shag. We're getting rid of it this year.
Posted with LifeCast
If we lived a block closer to the church building, I could post this entry using our home network. But, alas, the network doesn't stretch as far as this. And that's a good thing, because if I had Internet access here, the temptation would be overwhelming. But I can peck out an entry, however.
I like this early church thing. It does require a lot more preparatory effort to get everything pulled tohether in just two hours, but all that is worth it since we're done with church at noon.
Today, we cook the pot roast we originally got for Christmas Day. I have never cooked a roast before, so I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I'm taking the Fezzik approach, in that I "know how to heat and how to cool and how to sniff the good meat from the rotted," as William Goldman writes in "The Princess Bride."
Birthday went well. I got new pants. Can't beat that. Plus half a gig of memory for the computer. I'll admit to being a bit bummed by Sim City 4's performance, even with the additional memory. For some reason, the game and the Rush Hoir expansion pack are full-featured on Michelle's computer, but on mine I lose some of the highest options. I have no way to explain that, and if my Internet searches are indicitivr, I'm the only one having this problem. I don't mind being unique and all, but like Homer Simpson, I have to wonder why tje stuff that happens to stupid people always happens to me.
Well, I think I'm done. Michelle is giving me odd looks.
Posted with LifeCast
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Ultimatums are much more effective if the one delivering them doesn't have the hiccups. Otherwise, it sounds like this:
Lexie, if you (hic) don't do what I (hic) want I'm going to (hic) tell Daddy on (hic) you!
Thursday, January 8, 2009
But I plan on keeping my ears and eyes open as I take this class, so I can use what I'm learning as we work on the book. I just wish we weren't on such a protracted schedule -- for copyright reasons, we have to have the book published -- published, mind you -- by Jan. 20. I don't know that we can do that and get a quality project -- but Alan, naturally, is way ahead on that. We're designing and writing the book in a way that it can be done modularly, so whatever is ready by the 20th is what will be printed.
We'll have the printing done by some company or other, an Internet thing I can't recall the name of for the moment. Which is probably another good reason I'm not in charge. Dare I consider myself part of the creative, rather than the managerial, part of this project? I think I do.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
The temptation with a question like this is to create a list of what is a publication and what is not. Probably what is more helpful is to develop a philosophy of what a publication is. My definition is going to hinge a lot on context.
A publication is any photograph, illustration, text or other communicative medium or combination of media that with little or no additional context successfully communicates its intended messages to an audience.
Thus, websites are publications. Some individual website pages are publications. Individual photographs are publications. As are some e-mails, some book chapters, some illustrations. Then there are the obvious: Books, indeed, are publications. We can dicker a lot here. In the original French, for example, Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo" is published in two thick volumes, not the skinny book we all read in high school. One volume, without the other, does not make sense contextually, so only both volumes together are a publication. Yes, you may have one volume, it's all bound and neat and pretty and full of way too much information about Napoleon, but without the other volume, the data in only one volume isn't complete. You need both to have the needed context, so only both, together, are a publication.
I know from experiences in thise coursework that context is critical. I have, for example, a photograph of graffiti showing the face of a monster, done on a stalagmite in a cave. When I used it in a class project this summer, though I understood the context well, the rest of the class had no idea what they were looking at. It was too abstract on its own. Only when I explained the context, and showed other photographs, did the class understand what the picture was.
But there has to be room in the definition of abstraction in publications, or else we get things like Edvard Munch's "The Scream" or Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase," or even Chuck Jones' "Nude Duck Descending a Staircase" falling outside the realm of what is or is not a publication.
So it all comes back to context -- If the audience has enough context, you have a publication.
So, for most messages in this class -- I'll say at least those that start discussion threads -- they could, independently, be considered publications. The added context of comments is great, but not entirely necessary. Those comments, taken individually on their own, don't work as publications, because the context is not there.
For those outside the class, however, more context than individual threads is needed to understand our "publication" here. So, if we were to publish what takes place in this class, we couldn't just cut and paste what appears here and hope it would be understood, because it would not. We'd have to add more context.
Then I want to talk about value. This ties in with the “successfully communicates” part of my definition. Most of us here blog, for example. Maybe we have a few individual posts that can stand on their own as a publication. But to successfully communicate with our audiences, we depend on them to read many, many posts, on differing subjects, each bearing their own levels of context. Those who read many posts get more value out of our “publication,” so for the most part, I’ll argue blogs as a whole, and not blog entries, are publications.
This idea of value also applies to the cave photos I’ve mentioned. While the monster graffiti photo is striking, it’s more valuable to the audience when presented as a photo set, showing the photo in context with the rest of what’s in the cave.
Same applies for the postings in this class. To us, we can pick out the value in more minute portions of the publications management class as a whole. But for others, the value isn’t on that micro level.
I'll stop here because I’m on the verge of babbling.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
And I didn't even have to trim the closet door or bathroom door to make them fit over the new floor.
We spent nearly $600 on this adventure, stimulating the local economy while doing so.
Now U.S. Interior Secretary (and former Idaho Governor) Dirk Kempthorne has his Interior office bathroom remodeled. To the tune of $236,000. Now, I can't blame him. This is all General Services Agency-approved, part of a multi-million dollar remodel of the Interior Department's building. They removed lead paint and asbestos fibers. THey repaired aging plumbing.
They put in a refrigerator and freezer, which, heaven knows, no bathroom should be without. And floor-to-ceiling wood wainscotting -- which you can't exactly call wainscotting, can you -- and fancy tile. Plus enough money left over for monogrammed towels for a guy who's going to be out of a job come Jan. 20.
I won't say another word.
Not that I, nor most of the inhabitants of this planet, for that matter, fret even a little about the size of our galaxy comparative to others in the neighborhood. But, given the trend of late of trimming and reducing the size and quantity of things in our little corner of the universe (I’m still upset about the demotion of Pluto, mind you) it’s heartening to hear that the Milky Way might indeed be as massive as the Andromeda Galaxy, heretofore thought to be the Big Brother in our local galaxial group.
Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics recently completed measurements of the movement of areas of prolific star formation to determine how fast they were moving. They discovered, according to this article, that the Milky Way is spinning at about 600,000 miles per hour, or 100,000 miles per hour faster than previously thought. Using the arcane voodoo of mathematics, which kept me from my childhood dream of becoming an astronomer, they have determined that, given the faster rotation, the Milky Way must be about 50 percent heavier than previously thought, putting our own galaxy on par with the mass of Andromeda.
Another interesting finding:
Reid and his colleagues found other surprises, too. Measuring the distances toSo the galaxy isn’t even as boring as once assumed – a mere two-armed bipedal octopus spinning through oblivion.
multiple regions in a single spiral arm allowed them to calculate the angle of
the arm. “These measurements,” Reid said, “indicate that our Galaxy probably has four, not two, spiral arms of gas and dust that are forming stars.” Recent surveys by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that older stars reside mostly in two spiral arms, raising a question of why the older stars don't appear in all the arms. Answering that question, the astronomers say, will require more measurements and a deeper understanding of how the Galaxy works.
It’s often been a dream of mine to fly out over the Milky Way and look down at its spinning disk and revel in watching its bright arms spin gently against the blackness of outer space. It’s happened a few times in my dreams – always starting with a gigantic leap from the trampoline in the backyard of my boyhood home, where I soared for a while admiring the stars above, only to turn earthward and admire the roofs of our chicken coop and that of the neighbors’ until I soared higher and higher and higher until the earth was gone and the galaxy’s arms swam beneath me. Then I read that Albert Einstein often wondered what the universe would look like if he could travel through it at the speed of light on a motorcycle. Maybe that’s all it takes – Einstein wasn’t very good at the mathematics, either.
So I’ll keep dreaming about that galaxy of ours. Someday, I’ll see it from the perspective I desire.
Monday, January 5, 2009
This itouch (or as the snobbier Mac purists insist on calling it, the iPod Touch - though it's clear they can't yet agree on capitalization) could grow on me -- however, it does have one flaw. The wi-fi. Well, the wi-fi works fine, no question. But considering that I work in a rural area where the Department of Energy has made significant investments in fiber optics, I have no wi-fi options for the three hours I use to commute to work every day. Of course, the itouch is more than Internet access, but for the other primary feature -- music -- I already have that trusty ipod that's already beat up enough for the bus. And the laptop, though heavier than this thing, is handier for text processing and movies. I'm not ungrateful for the itouch by any means, it's just that I'm typically a little slower than most to see the utility of such things.
Posted with LifeCast
Then I realized, sitting here at my desk, surrounded by the fruits of my publications management labors, that I am grossly in error. The error of my thinking: Limiting what a “publication” is. Publications are more than books, magazines, artsy-fartsy catalogs, coffee table things and other folderol that get magically produced, printed and sold. The procedures I write and edit at work are publications – they’re published when the final product is posted to our internal document server, when they’re printed in the field, when they’re read by their intended audiences. The web sites I work on – uncharted.net, my own personal blog – are publications in their own right, and must be managed in a publications management sort of way. I want them, after all, to look good, to be useful, entertaining, inspiring, adequate, whatever adjective you may choose. My error in thinking about what a publication is hinged suddenly on the temporary, short-term nature of the publications I work with. A long-term thing like a book, with many pages, colors, photographs, and the like, felt more like a publication than the stuff I do every day. Wrong. Each thing I work on is a publication, I said to myself, thwacking my forehead in exasperation (figuratively; we try to avoid forehead-slapping where I work). So what if some of the things I work on have a shelf-life of a week, a month, or, in a few cases, hours, before the next iteration has to come out? Each one has to be managed with care to make sure it does what the client wants it to do. Even when the client is me.
But, there are aspects of publications management I know I can learn: Wrangling with those long-term projects. Budgeting.
So, publications management, to me, is this: Working with clients to find out what they want their publication to do, to say, to mean, and then delivering on that. Working with the people who will use the publication to find meaning the clients may not consider. Plus all that numbers stuff. Yeek.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
First of all, when the alarm goes off at 7 am (alarms? On a Sunday morning?) it's still dark outside, this time of year. Reminds Michelle of waking our daughter for school a few months ago. Lexie was indignant that Mom was "waking her up at midnight!" to go to school. Michelle explained that it wasn't midnight, that it was, in fact, 7:30 am, and that it was time to go to school. Disbelieving her mother, Lexie looked out the window at the darkness still enveloping our little warty city and shrieked, "Then why is school starting at midnight?" That's how it was this morning. Dark as a black cat. Cold, too, five below zero, with the carbon monoxide alarm going off because the cold was driving the smoke DOWN the chimney, rather than up it.
(An aside: I used to laugh when Bill Cosby described, in one of his comedy routines, having to tell his children to use soap when they bathed. I don't see the humor in it now, as our oldest has now taken two baths this week without the benefit of soap.)
So the kids eat their breakfast while I go out to start up the van. Yes, it's only two blocks to church, but in this booger-freezing weather, walking to church simply isn't done.
But now we're home. Have been for nearly four hours. That means that, on our old schedule, we'd still be at church. I'm glad we're not.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
In reading Chuck Jones' autobiography Chuck Amuck, I've had a peek into what he considers comedy, and Richard Thompson certainly picks up on what he says. Comedy, Jones says, starts with sympathy with a character in any kind of situation. Since there are times even as an adult I don't understand the whys and wherefores of this adult world I'm supposed to be a part of, I can easily sympathize with a character who is obsessed with learning how to wink and whistle just for the fact of being able to do so, not because she understands why it's important. (And adults, watching her struggles, may not understand that in the kid's point of view that being able to whistle and wink are important as steps toward adulthood. This sentence is getting way convoluted.)